US COVID-19 cases surpass 4 million, according to Johns Hopkins

Amid news of surging case counts and ICU bed shortages across the country, data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center confirmed that more than 4 million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the United States.

As of July 23, there had been more than 143,000 deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus in the U.S., with over 625,000 COVID-19 deaths confirmed across the world.

The 4 million cases milestone is being crossed in the U.S. at a time when the Trump administration is pushing schools across the country to reopen, while health experts and education officials continue to discuss just how much risk children may face from contracting the novel coronavirus, and potentially spreading the virus to others.

Just days before the end of an enhanced unemployment benefit, the nation got another dose of bad economic news Thursday: The number of laid-off workers seeking jobless benefits last week rose for the first time since late March, intensifying concerns the resurgent coronavirus is stalling or even reversing the economic recovery.

And an extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits, provided by the federal government on top of whatever assistance states provide, is set to expire at the end of this week. It is the last major source of economic help from the $2 trillion relief package that Congress approved in March. A small business lending program and one-time $1,200 payment have largely run their course.

Without the extra aid, nearly 30 million unemployed people could struggle to pay rent utilities, or other bills and economists worry that overall consumer spending will drop, adding another economic blow.

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More than 1.4 million people applied for jobless benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, up from 1.3 million the previous week. That is the first increase since March and 18th straight week that it has topped 1 million. 

Members of Congress are currently preparing another COVID-19 rescue package. The Associated Press reported on Thursday that the White House would be dropping a proposed payroll tax cut after GOP allies objected. 

The long-delayed legislation comes amid alarming developments in the virus crisis. Details were originally set to be released Thursday morning by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but the Kentucky Republican instead hosted an unscheduled meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and delayed the planned release of his proposal.

California recently became the state with the highest confimed COVID-19 infections, surpassing New York, once the epicenter of the U.S. pandemic. Johns Hopkins University data from July 22 showed that California recorded about 1,200 more cases than New York, although the Empire State still has a significantly higher death count at over 32,000, while California’s is above 8,000.

Florida, a state showing signs that it could become a new epicenter of the pandemic, reported that the number of COVID-19 cases in the state rose by 10,249 since the morning of Wednesday, July 22, with the total amount of confirmed cases in the state above 389,000.

On the vaccine front, there were presently four vaccines in the large-scale efficacy test phase and more than 13 in expanded safety trials, according to the New York Times’ Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker. Moderna reported that 45 out of 45 patients in an initial trial all developed antibodies from their vaccine.

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 On Monday, the Associated Press reported that an experimental coronavirus vaccine from Oxford University had been shown in an early trial to prompt a protective immune response in hundreds of people who got the shot.

On Wednesday, it was reported that the United States secured 100 million doses of the experimental vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech. A day earlier, executives at top pharmaceutical companies clarified in a congressional hearing whether they intended to reap profit off of their vaccines. 

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“We will not sell it at cost,” said Dr. Stephen Hoge, president of Moderna, which was granted $483 million from the U.S. government to develop a vaccine. An executive for Merck, another company developing a vaccine, said that the company would not be selling their vaccine at cost.

Executives from Johnson & Johnson and the British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca promised lawmakers that they would not seek to profit from their vaccines.

FOX 13 Tampa Bay and the Associated Press contributed to this report.